Glove business lends a hand in showcasing local Prescott history

Karen Price at the museum entrance. Van Dusen photo, Nation Valley News

Tom Van Dusen
Nation Valley News

PRESCOTT – In the absence of a municipal museum, a company which is hand-and-glove with local business history has stepped up to fill part of the gap.

Located in an historic industrial enclave close to the CN mainline, Portolano Products Canada Inc. has established a small museum at its entrance, in part to answer a recurring question: What’s a high-end glove maker based in Italy doing in Prescott?

Van Dusen photo, Nation Valley News

Launched in Naples in 1895, Portolano arrived about 35 years ago, says Sandra Shay, local manager for most of those years; Prescott remains the company’s only factory site in Canada. The Portolanos had been supplying Fischl and came for a look after he c eased operations. The company liked the presence of a bridge into the U.S.A and the opportunity to open a bonded warehouse to serve markets around the world.

The mostly stone industrial square had been vacant for a few years following the collapse first of Elliott Brothers cabinet and casket makers, and later Fischl Glove Company. Portolano has a large warehouse on site and a discount retail store.

“People who come to the store crave history,” Shay says in explaining why the museum was installed using salvaged artifacts and accessories put together by employee Karen Price who holds a diploma in museum studies. “They want to know why we’re here.”

An official opening of the Portolano Musem was planned but was kiboshed by COVID-19. Meanwhile, the town is in the process of selling its historic Forwarders Museum and Visitor Centre for $30,000 to a local developer. The 200-year-old building has been closed for the past three years because it needs major upgrades.

The purchaser must abide by legislation that prevents the Forwarders from being torn down or significantly altered on the outside. Mayor Brett Todd has repeatedly stated a major priority is relocating museum artifacts to a new site, preferably downtown.

Van Dusen photo, Nation Valley News

Shay sees history as a business asset and wishes council did more to promote the town’s many historic attributes: “Let’s ensure we make best use of those assets we still have.”

The Portolano museum is contained in a former waiting room where men took a seat while their wives shopped. Customers pass through it on their way to the retail store which features hats, scarves and other clothing items in addition to the trademark gloves.

They’re invited to pause and admire photos, documents and artifacts — particularly a collection of old sewing machines — depicting early times of the Elliotts, Fischls and Portolano family.

Shay said there’s room to expand the museum and that’s now being considered: “Our customers have been amazed.”

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